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Turning over a new leaf: Jules Kounde and his brilliant Barcelona comeback

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Photo via Getty Images

It has been a rollercoaster of a season for Jules Kounde. Despite starting the season off strong, a notable decline in his performances began to follow around the midway point of the season.

Kounde’s inability to emulate his performances from earlier in the campaign or outshine the likes of Ronald Araujo and Inigio Martinez saw him fail to warrant a spot as the center-back.

With Barcelona embroiled in defensive disorder and Kounde’s dip occurring at an untimely moment, Xavi was compelled to head back to the drawing board.

One of the many changes the coach implemented following the harrowing defeat to Villarreal at home was permanently shifting Kounde to the defensive right-back position in a faux three-at-the-back system.

Despite the Frenchman preferring to play through the center, Kounde’s situation on the right-hand side has proven to be a blessing in disguise for both the player and the club, as he has consistently produced solid exhibitions.

And his worth to the club was best encapsulated against PSG in the first-leg, with Kounde shutting down one of the world’s best forwards, Kylian Mbappe.

How Kounde has turned his situation around

In a hybrid role with the combination of right-back and center-back responsibilities, Kounde’s biggest strengths have come to light.

In possession, such a context allows him to predominantly underlap and carry the ball forward, which eliminates lines of pressure and offers Barça a presence centrally.

His short passes are also best availed out wide, as he can squeeze passes through tiny spaces and lend a supporting role up-field.

Total shut down. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

In fact, Jules Kounde has been involved in more open-play shot-ending sequences than any other defender in La Liga. The Frenchman also has two assists this year.

On the other hand, his defensive fundamentals are also optimally utilized on the right, as Kounde’s elite understanding of wingers allows him to predict their off-ball movements preemptively.

Since the 25-year-old’s resurgence, he has locked up a majority of the wingers on his flank, notably pocketing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in the Champions League Round of 16.

Dishing out masterclasses in quick succession and proving to be a primary contributor to Barcelona’s upturn in defensive solidity, Kounde has solved one of Barcelona’s major concerns this season: getting exposed in the wide channels.

Dominating against the big-fish

Over the past few game weeks, Kounde has comfortably dealt with the threat he has been tasked to deal with, but extending his form against one of the most formidable attacks in Europe is a testament to his increasing confidence

Despite being pitted against Kylian Mbappe, who has handed Barcelona tough losses in the past, the defender hardly looked out of place.

In fact, he rarely allowed his French compatriot to have a whiff on goal. Kounde anticipated Mbappe’s runs off the ball as well as his dribbles.

The PSG winger would often pick up the ball on the byline and try every avenue possible to create danger by going both outside and inside. Still, it was invariably Kounde who came out on top, despite occasionally losing in a foot race.

Kounde impressively won seven out of nine ground duels, two out of three aerial duels, and made three recoveries.

When Barcelona had the ball, he was equally influential, making 35 out of 39 accurate passes and completing five out of seven long balls.

Barcelona will be hoping that Kounde continues to perform at such a high standard, as a shot at Champions League glory is no longer a distant possibility.

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